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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Organizing Small Spaces: Stow it Down Under

I love my house, but at just over 1000 square feet its modest size can be a challenge, especially when it comes to storage.  This post will launch a series of posts about organizing your things when space is limited. 

The key to organizing a small home is to maximize functionality by creating multi-purpose spaces.  I have turned the space under my bed into an organized area with plenty of easy-access to regularly-used items.

When we converted our only hallway closet into a media closet to house our computer, internet, and theater-related electronics, I lost my linen closet.  I had just acquired several reasonably priced natural-fiber bins to beautifully organize my linens, but now I had to figure out where to put all of it. 

The solution?  Six-inch bed risers for my California King-sized bed that double the under-the-bed storage space.

I have always stored things under the bed in short containers, but with the bed risers, I can fit larger items and bins under the bed as well.  I put my linens in their nice white bins on the side of the bed that is only a few feet from the wall since my bed and the floor are both dark wood and I didn't want my storage bins to "pop".  I can easily slide out each bin to access the linens.  I also have a box of gift bags and a long under-bed box with other wrapping supplies on this side.

On the other side of the bed, which can be seen from the bedroom doorway, I put purses and bags and rarely-worn clothing in dark rattan baskets and my workout gear in another under-bed box with plenty of room on top for the oft-used yoga mat and hand weights. 

There is even room under the middle of the bed for banker-type boxes with important papers that must be saved, but shouldn’t need to be accessed.  The extra height makes the bed feel more substantial in our room, and hasn’t been a problem for us or our toddler to get in and out of the bed.  

The six-inch bed risers have turned a so-so storage ground into a useful, organized, and easy-to-access space under the bed.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Feeding My Family – Putting Microsoft Excel to Work for Me

If I don’t plan a week’s worth of meals ahead of time and shop accordingly, I end up frustrated and staring at the refrigerator for an hour at dinnertime every night, trying to come up with something to make from random ingredients, and usually end up making several trips to the grocery store through the week or eating out multiple nights.  Not only is this not cost effective, but it adds stress to my days.  Read on about the system I’ve developed to combat this.

System: I take some time one day a week to plan meals, make a comprehensive shopping trip with a well-organized list, and even do some prep-work ahead of busy weeknight meals.  This makes dinnertime a much more relaxed, enjoyable part of the daily routine. 

I use a customized Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to organize my meal planning and shopping lists. 

I start with an area to plan out dinner meals, with placeholders for main dish, vegetable and starch to help me plan well-balanced and varied meals.   I take requests for meals from my husband and my daughter, and I also like to incorporate new recipes to keep it interesting and try new things.   I plan a couple of meals that might take a little more preparation time for the nights I am able to devote more time to cooking.  I also plan several meals that can either be prepared quickly in the evening, or can be prepared ahead of time and popped in the oven at dinnertime.  I purposefully do not specify the night each meal will be prepared when I’m planning, so even though things are planned out, I still feel the flexibility to prepare whatever meal sounds best at the time. 

Once my meals are planned, I circle needed items on the shopping list and use the room in the margin for rare items purchased for specific recipes.  I also plan accordingly for breakfasts and lunches, trying to add some variety so we don’t get bored.  I also consider lunches in planning dinners.  For example, if I make a meatloaf, I make it bigger and I don’t purchase any sandwich meat that week, since meatloaf sandwiches are at least as good as the original meal!

A Note about Buying Organic

I try to have a balance between the added expense of buying organic and avoiding excessive pesticide exposure for my family.  The Environmental Working Group tests produce for pesticide residues and puts out a list every year of the “Dirty Dozen” fruits and vegetables with the highest detected pesticide levels.  I buy the items on this list organic, and let prices drive my purchase choices for other items.  I copy and paste the list right onto the shopping list when it is released every year, so I don’t have to remember it.

Added Benefits

I keep the list posted to the refrigerator, along with a small magnetic container holding pens at the ready, so staple items can be marked as needed as soon as they are finished. 

I keep a copy of the list in my purse, so if I’m unable to go through the full meal planning exercise ahead of time, not only can I plan and buy for simple meals on the fly AT the grocery store, but I can also scan the items we purchase regularly to minimize forgotten necessities.

If you need help customizing a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to meet your needs, please contact me at or visit my website,

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

All Systems Go

To me, the most important skill to hone first in the art of organizing is the development of effective systems. 

A system is a consistent modus operandi for tackling recurring tasks in your day. 
The way the system fits into the daily routine is a critical factor contributing to whether the system will work.

For example, we want to take lunches from home to work and school to cut down on eating out expenses.  It is also easier for my husband to bring his lunch, since he often works through his lunch period as a super-busy automotive repair service writer.  But without an effective system, there was no consistency in having lunches ready to go by the time we are rushing out the door in the morning. 

For many reasons, I have tried to implement an earlier start to my day to ensure I would have time for this and other things I’d like to do, which is the subject of another post.  Long story short, this doesn’t work for me consistently, and with the birth of my 3-month old daughter, it went straight out the window when I needed to be asleep whenever I could get away with it.   It also doesn’t work for me to make the lunches the night before because we just don’t have room in our fridge for all the lunch boxes.

I have found a solution that now works consistently, and thus is my lunch-prep system.  I prepare in baggies or reusable containers the elements of each lunch the night before when I’m already in the kitchen either making dinner or cleaning up afterwards.  Sandwiches, celery sticks and other keep-cold items go in the fridge and chips, granola bars and other room-temperature items go in the lunch pails on the kitchen counter.  Then in the morning, anyone can grab the items from the fridge, along with the ice packs from the freezer, and have a ready-to-go lunch without me having to be the one to put it together. 

Any part of your day that you dread or that makes your stress level sky-rocket is an opportunity for a system. 

I love my husband, but the concept of “everything in its place” does not come naturally to him.  Not being able to find his keys in the morning when he’s running late stresses the whole family.  And not being able to reach him during the day because his cell phone is dead stresses me, so I have developed a system on his behalf.  Before I go to bed, I locate and gather up all of his necessities: his keys, phone, bluetooth headset and wallet.  I plug in his phone and bluetooth headset, so they are charged by morning.  I put his wallet and keys in a consistent place in our bedroom to de-clutter the kitchen counter.  That way if something was left in the car by accident, we find it when we aren’t in a rush.  Someday maybe it will even be his system, but for now this works for us.

I tend to refine systems by trying new things until something works consistently enough to be deemed the winner.  Well-tuned systems have been a saving grace to my sanity over the past few years as a working parent. 

Summary and Targeted Approach

  • Identify recurring tasks that cause increased stress in your life: these are systems waiting to be developed.
  • Determine how you can accomplish the task so it will work for you: make it consistent, break it up into smaller, more manageable tasks, and/or delegate where possible.
  • Take time out of the equation:  If possible, fit the system into your daily routine sometime when you won’t be rushed to complete it.
  • Give it some time and re-evaluate: if the system and its incorporation into your routine are effective, the system will stick.  If you find you are still fighting with it, it needs some refinement.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Getting Started

Sometimes getting started is the most difficult part of a project.  I am almost giddy with excitement about the prospect of blogging about something for which I am so passionate: organization.  But somehow I needed to make myself sit down and write this first post.  I am swirling with posting ideas, concepts, and tidbits from my research that I am eager to share.  And yet I have been procrastinating getting started.  So here goes…

I have an affinity for all things related to organization.  It relaxes me just to read books or magazines on how to be organized.  My adult life has consisted of a series of refinements in organization; each step with its own benefits, and each contributing to the person I am today.  I enjoy both the process of organizing and the finished product.  There is always room for improvement in the organization of our thoughts, homes, and lives.   I will use this blog as a platform to discuss ideas, projects, supplies, and tools for getting organized.

As a mom of two small (awesome) girls, trying to run a successful household and small business while working part-time, I find that the more organized things are, the more smoothly the days go.  And with that, I am better equipped to maintain a sense of accomplishment and serenity in my normal, chaotic life.

This blog specifically came about as a way to spread the word about my small business venture – creating customized Excel spreadsheets (  I am very passionate about Microsoft Excel.  It is such a wonderful and powerful tool for simplifying common tasks and I use it in all aspects of my life.   My husband finally suggested that I help other people use Microsoft Excel to their benefit, whether for personal organization or complex business tasks and analysis.  So among my blog posts about getting organized will be many tips and suggestions for using Microsoft Excel spreadsheets to get organized. 

I would love to hear from you – your similar experiences, as well as your thoughts or results from the ideas presented here.  So please leave comments!!
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